Cardinal Chito and the Power of Christian Witness

If Pope Francis’ successor is Pope Francis II, there is a very good chance that Cardinal Luis Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, will be the man who has succeeded him. And it’s easy to see why.

In I Have Learned From the Least, Cardinal Chito, as he is affectionately known to so many, provides us with an overview of his background and insights into his approach as a bishop, teacher, thinker, and man of God. What stands out most are his integrity, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and commitment to living a life of love.

Cardinal Chito is the paradigmatic ‘Francis Bishop’. His smile, kindness, and infectious joy draw people in to hear the Good News. His focus on the poor and vulnerable reflects the priorities and commands of Christ. He discusses the importance of meeting with the poor—listening and learning from them. Though possessing strong academic credentials, he is conscious of ensuring that abstract ideas do not distort concrete reality. Echoing Pope Francis, he says that theologians should smell of sheep a bit more.

His disciplined, precise mind is used to foster dialogue and fraternity rather than to feed culture wars and legalistic hunts for those who defy subjective purity tests. He notes that “when church leaders speak like angry politicians rather than as loving pastors, young people no longer want to listen to them.” He understands the importance of welcoming young people and fostering a sense of belonging, especially for those who have moved away from their families and feel isolated and alienated. This drives his welcoming approach, while motivating him to reach out to young people wherever they might be, even on social media.

He discusses the threats that consumerism, materialism, and secularism pose to young people without slipping into scolding those who may have been tempted by such false paths. He understands the power of witness. Young people need to see an alternative to those paths. They need to see faithful Christians who live out their faith, who live with authenticity, and live lives worthy of admiration and emulation.

Authenticity as a Christian means showing a sincere, consistent commitment to social justice, and Cardinal Chito’s commitment to the common good is clear. He talks about democracy and human rights. He calls out politicians for ignoring the poor. He emphasizes the need to care for God’s creation, noting that the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer from the effects of climate change. He shows a keen understanding of migration—its root causes and its effects. He discusses the need to humanize globalization so that its benefits are more inclusive. This all reflects his commitment to Catholic social teaching and Gospel values. It shows a Christian worldview that takes its personalism and communitarianism not merely from philosophy or theology books but through encounter, especially with the poor and vulnerable.

In reading the book, one gets the sense that this is a person who is fully secure in his faith, his commitment to the poor, and his belief that love should animate his actions. He does not cling to the truth out of fear or insecurities. This confidence and comfort allows him to listen, engage in dialogue, and place his trust in God.


Steph Curry on His Faith and Being a Role Model

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Doc McStuffins, Moana, and Steph Curry are the kids’ favorite role models—a frequent presence in our home from the tv screen to playtime to posters on the wall. As a toddler, my oldest daughter would walk around exclaiming, “Chef Curry with the pot boy!” Unlike Charles Barkley, who famously rejected being a role model, Curry, the two-time NBA champion and league MVP with the Golden State Warriors, recognizes that he is one and is comfortable with it. He spoke about being a role model, his ‘good boy’ reputation, and his faith in a recent interview with Complex:

I understand the opportunity I have and the magnitude of how many people look up to me. Not just to model their game after me, but also the character, values, and that kind of deal. But it’s not outside my normal daily life. It’s just how I live my life and how I was raised. The fact that that speaks volumes to people is amazing, but there isn’t any extra pressure or anything like that. It’s just who I am. So I guess that helps to be able to handle the spotlight that’s on me. I definitely appreciate the opportunity and the impact that I have, but I don’t really feel any extra pressure….

My faith is what helps me keep everything in perspective. I know I’ve been given these talents to play the game and this is my way to reach millions and millions of people through those talents. That’s what makes me appreciative of everything that happens, good or bad. My mom and my pops were obviously huge influences in that they set that foundation: Basketball is fun, but it’s not the highest priority….

During your career, have you ever faced opposition because of your Christianity or felt pressure to be a different person, or have a different persona?
For sure. Not everybody plays from the same perspective. A lot of people question my good boy vibes and whether it’s genuine or not. There’s always those questions about me and there’s a lot of trash talk that comes directed at me from that too. But if that’s the burden that I’m going to have to carry, then that’s pretty simple for me.


We Need a Revolution in Solidarity

In recent years, we have seen the narrowing of the American middle class and diminished social mobility as economic inequality balloons, the intensification of consumerism, the rise of an opioid crisis, the breakdown of family stability among working class Americans, the resurgence of ugly forms of populism, and the general fraying of communal bonds. Many of these are interconnected. And the personalist communitarianism of the Church offers the best window for understanding what is happening and how we might resist hyperindividualism and the libertarian policies that accompany and drive it (while avoiding alternatives that diminish human dignity).

Chris Arnade, one of the most astute observers of an America that many political and cultural elites cannot or will not see, reflected on some of these developments in a series of tweets earlier today:

What is needed is radical: a revolution in solidarity. We need to reform and re-democratize our political institutions. We need to build an economic system that rebuilds the middle class, increases distributive justice, and promotes more widespread flourishing. We need policies that ensure everyone has access to their most basic needs, including quality healthcare and childcare. People need jobs that reflect their dignity and increased access to treatment for drug abuse, not the legalization and commercialization of additional illicit substances, so that even more corporations get rich preying on the vulnerable. The federal government needs to empower intermediary institutions that strengthen local communities rather than ignoring their responsibilities and forcing these institutions to pick up the government’s slack.

But we also need cultural changes. An obsession with individual autonomy not only harms our communities, it is often a recipe for misery for the person who embraces it. Human beings are social by nature; the pursuit of unlimited, uninhibited choice does not lead to human flourishing. Consumerism will not fill the spiritual void of those who have left religion behind or do not live it out in their daily lives. We need more people to believe in the importance of duty, the value and permanence of marriage, and that morality is more than enlightened self-interest. We need people to resist objectifying others, even in a culture that floods people with the message that it is only natural and human to do so. Though all humans inevitably come up short in our attempts to live morally, we need more people to believe in virtue and order their lives around this commitment.

Pope Francis is calling for radical change. But it’s up to everyday Catholics to promote this revolution by breaking from bourgeois conformity, resisting the currents of individualism and libertarianism, and fighting for the common good in a culture that is often hostile to the demands of human dignity. It’s not an easy road. But Christianity is about following the way of Christ, not a path to comfort and approval.


Critical Questions Remain Over Trump’s Missile Strikes and Syria Policy

Overall, Syrian democracy activists were ecstatic about President Donald Trump’s strikes on the base from which the Syrian regime launched its latest chemical attacks. After years of impunity, the Assad regime paid a price (however tiny) for their crimes against humanity. Western proponents of the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine, the enforcement of international law and norms, and more direct action to end the war, along with other critics of the Obama administration’s largely hands-off policy, have on average been more ambivalent. And rightfully so.

Many questions remain: Why did Trump strike—for his personal popularity, to be the anti-Obama, because he just now realized what Assad has been doing? If he cares about Syrian civilians, why does he show no compassion for the refugees fleeing Assad and ISIS?  What are his strategic goals (if they exist)—enforcing the norm against chemical weapon use, protecting innocent civilians, shifting the dynamics on the ground to increase the odds of a resolution to the conflict? Is this part of a larger strategy or an emotional response to the barbarism seen in images and videos of the attack (the CNN Effect, as political scientists call it)? Does Trump have the ability to effectively carry out any larger strategy given his general incompetence and unwillingness to study policy details? How will his relationship with Russia affect his response to their apparent complicity in these crimes? Does Trump now realize the role Assad has played and continues to play in strengthening extremists or not?

While many oppose a status quo that has left half a million people dead, displaced roughly half the country, and created a refugee crisis that threatens Western democracy, these questions and others make many who are open to intervention hesitate before endorsing the administration’s course of action or becoming optimistic about future Trump administration policies. The costs of further intervention (whatever form it could take) are real, as are the risks (as with non-intervention), particularly in the wake of the Russian intervention to save the regime from collapsing—a responsible analyst must not only consider what the best course of action should be, but the likelihood that an administration is inclined to, and capable of, carrying it out.

While a movement away from ‘America First’ populist nationalism is certainly encouraging, those who value the common good are right to remain skeptical of an administration that has yet to prove its intentions or efficacy. The lessons of Iraq should not lead to isolationism, but precisely this type of skepticism with a careful consideration of who is intervening and why. The President’s competence (or incompetence) can have a dramatic impact on the probability of success and potential costs of intervention. This must be considered in calculations of the justness and strategic prudence of particular courses of action. Can the wrong man carry out the right policy? Certainly, but with so many unanswered questions, caution is the most sensible response right now.

Here are a few articles on the chemical weapon attacks and reactions from those who have been critical of Western indifference to Assad’s mass murder:

‘My entire family’s gone’: Syrian man says 25 relatives died in strike by CNN: “Youssef arrived in his parents’ house to find his two brothers dead. Panicked, he rushed back to his home to check on his wife and babies. “There was foam on their mouths, there were convulsions. They had all been on the floor,” Youssef told CNN on Wednesday, sobbing. “My kids, Ahmad and Aya, and my wife… they were all martyred. “My entire family’s gone.””

Teen lost 19 family members in Syria chemical attack: ‘I saw the explosion’ by CNN: “In all, he said, 19 of his relatives were killed Tuesday morning. When Mazin said that devastating number, his voice cracked. He lost his struggle to maintain self-control. His face contorted, his red eyes filled with tears. He plopped down sobbing on the plastic chair in the hospital corridor. Mazin is only 13 years old. He is a child. And this is his world.”

Trump might be going to war. But he has no plans for establishing peace. by Ilan Goldenberg and Nicholas Heras: “Yet as analysts who have argued for greater U.S. military engagement to end the Syrian civil war, we find ourselves conflicted about the president’s decision: We fear there is simply no plan for what comes next. To succeed beyond Thursday’s limited strikes, American leaders must decide on a clear set of objectives, a realistic desired final outcome, a theory of the case for how to get there and a solid understanding of the risks. We see three potential options for how the president could move forward.”

What Effect Will Trump’s Airstrikes Really Have? By Daniel Byman: “If the strike does achieve the President’s objective and Asad no longer uses chemical weapons against his own people, that’s good news—but it is little consolation for the tens of thousands of Syrians who are likely to die in the coming months from regime barrel bombs or indiscriminate Russian airstrikes or to be tortured and killed in the dictator’s prisons.”

Syrian opposition leader: Trump has a chance to save Syria By Josh Rogin: “Short of that, the Syrian opposition is asking the Trump administration to use any new leverage it has to demand a nationwide ceasefire, to stop the killing of civilians by the Assad regime and press for international access to all besieged areas and the jails where Assad is holding thousands of civilians in custody. They also believe now is the time to push for a new political process to move Assad out of power.”

A Practical Guide for Avoiding Fallacies on Syria by Shadi Hamid: “It is abundantly clear that the Assad regime will not negotiate in good faith or make any significant concessions on its own. We’ve hoped for that since the earliest Arab League efforts in 2011. The credible threat of force (or its use) is the only thing that is likely to change Assad’s calculus. If his survival isn’t at stake, he has little reason to negotiate much of anything.”

This May Signal That the Free Ride for Mass Murder Is Over by Frederic Hof: “Bashar al-Assad’s political survival strategy of collective punishment and mass homicide is a gift that keeps on giving to ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other forms of violent, terrorist extremism.”

So Trump Attacked Assad. What Now? by Charles Lister: “Assad cannot and will never put Syria back together again, but partition is not an answer. Foreign intervention for rapid regime change promises only further chaos, but determined U.S. leadership backed up by the credible and now proven threat of force presents the best opportunity in years to strong-arm actors on the ground into a phase of meaningful de-escalation, out of which eventually, a durable negotiation process may result.”


Rep. Joe Kennedy: What Bible is Paul Ryan Reading?

In defending the disastrous new GOP proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, Paul Ryan described it as an “act of mercy.” Congressman Joe Kennedy responded by challenging the understanding of scripture and mercy of the once enthusiastic Ayn Rand fanboy, who after one of his supposed conversions to Catholic social teaching still cautioned against “too much solidarity” in a ridiculous article at America:

There is no mercy in a system that makes healthcare a luxury. There is no mercy in a country that turns their back on those most in need of protection: the elderly, the poor, the sick, and the suffering. There is no mercy in a cold shoulder to the mentally ill…This is not an “act of mercy.” It is an act of malice.

Of course, if elected Democrats displayed a consistent commitment to this standard of mercy for all human persons, there is little chance that such an immoral, incoherent healthcare proposal would be up for debate.


Republicans Shouldn’t Take Prenatal Care Guarantees from Pregnant Women

Republican Congressman John Shimkus expressed opposition yesterday to the mandate in the Affordable Care Act that healthcare plans must cover prenatal care. He argued that men should not have to contribute to the healthcare of pregnant women and their unborn children. Instead, he expressed his support for Americans choosing health insurance plans where coverage is chosen a la carte.

There are a number of problems with this line of thinking. First, it’s detached from reality. That is not how the marketplace has worked or will work, as Congressman Michael Doyle helpfully pointed out. Second, it ignores the practical impact that this would have on the cost of health insurance plans that include prenatal care. It would certainly make it less affordable and thus inaccessible for pregnant women and their children. Combined with Paul Ryan’s seeming inability to understand how insurance works, it is clear that Republicans lack the minimal technical knowledge required to produce healthcare reform that is actually feasible in the real world, let alone a plan that is prudent and helpful.

The case for removing the prenatal care mandate is also deeply immoral. It reflects a market morality that places consumer choice above human dignity and the sanctity of human life. Every single person who is pro-life, including the Congressman, should reject this perverse ordering of values. Pope Francis directly challenged this mentality, saying, “Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege.”

Against this libertarian mentality that is driven by extreme individualism, unlimited choice, and maximized autonomy, a Christian approach recognizes that we all (including men!) have a responsibility to support pregnant women and unborn children (among others). Recognizing this is integral to building a culture of life. This type of commitment to community and mutual responsibility is essential for achieving the common good.

Until Republicans’ leading policy wonk figures out how insurance works, those Republicans trying to replace the Affordable Care Act develop a minimal understanding of how obtaining health insurance works in reality, and the Republican party starts to show a little more respect for life rather than unfettered choice, the party’s effort to cut taxes for the wealthy by wrecking the Affordable Care Act should be strongly opposed by all.


Top 10 Reasons to Oppose Trump’s Refugee Ban

As President Trump tweaks his refugee ban in the hopes of it surviving legal challenges, here’s a reminder of the many reasons to oppose any refugee ban:

  1. It’s immoral and un-American. It violates Christian moral principles and turns away from the American aspiration of being the land of the free and the home of the brave. It contradicts the responsibilities toward refugees, migrants, and foreigners that are given to us in the Bible.
  2. It’s unnecessary. The vetting process is already rigorous.
  3. It’s motivated by xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, and it violates religious freedom.
  4. Pope Francis is calling for the opposite approach.
  5. It violates pro-life principles, as Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark explains.
  6. ISIS loves it. It confirms their narrative of a war between the West and Islam. And it makes the US look weak and afraid.
  7. This should not be a partisan issue. There is a strong conservative case for welcoming refugees.
  8. It’s an alt-right scheme premised on changing demographics in the US, not protecting the American people (which is why so many counterterrorism and national security experts reject the ban).
  9. Catholics know the history of such bigotry and should be vigilant about confronting and opposing it.
  10. It’s legally dubious. Trump asked for a legal way to carry out his Muslim ban, a goal that isn’t legal. Given his intentions, it is not clear that even the revised ban is constitutional.

Meanwhile, Catholic leaders are already pushing back against the new executive order.

The USCCB (Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration) says:

The removal of one of the original seven predominantly Muslim countries temporarily barred from entering the United States is welcome, but we are disappointed that the revised order maintains the temporary shutdown of the U.S. refugee admissions program, continues the more than 60 percent reduction in the number of refugees who can be resettled into the United States this year, and still temporarily bars nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal.

However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.

Catholic Relief Services states:

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) opposes the new Executive Order on refugees, noting that while every Administration has an obligation to protect its citizens, the United States need not halt resettlement to undertake a security review.

“The fact is, refugees already undergo significant vetting – more than any other traveler to the United States,” said Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ Vice President for Advocacy…..

“By banning refugees and travel from Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, we are turning our backs on suffering people during their most difficult hours,” he said.

In Yemen, 17 million cannot adequately feed themselves.  More than 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, in addition to the nearly 5 million refugees.  And drought in Somalia has left 6.2 million people in need.

“As the world’s most blessed nation, we should be doing more to provide assistance overseas and resettle the most vulnerable, not less.” O’Keefe said. “It is wrong, during this time of great need, to cut humanitarian assistance and reduce resettlement.

“Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism that we seek to protect ourselves from,” he said.  “By welcoming them, we show the world that we are an open, tolerant nation which seeks to protect the vulnerable.  That has always been America’s greatest strength.”

Catholic Charities says:

Today, Sister Donna Markham OP, PhD, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), expressed her profound concern over the new Presidential Executive Order, entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”

“At the heart of the work of Catholic Charities is the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable among us,” said Sister Donna.  “Today’s executive order not only hinders that work, but also effectively abandons, for four months, the thousands of endangered refugees fleeing violence, starvation and persecution. It is deeply disturbing to know that the thousands of women, children and other persecuted individuals around the world will face a closed door rather than a helping hand from the United States,” Sister Donna continued.